Color To Black & White Conversions – A Strategic Overview

Alignment XXIII


There are many ways to convert color images to black and white.
Here’s my preferred method.

1       Optimize Color

Start with an optimized color original; set black point, white point, and lightness; clear color casts; boost saturation to reasonably high levels; avoid clipping. Use Lightroom or Camera Raw.

2       Establish a Tonal Structure
Establish a tonal structure - the relative lightness and darkness of diverse image areas. For basic global conversions use Lightroom or Camera Raw. For advanced local conversions use dual adjustment layers – Hue/Saturation below Black & White.

(The primary goal of a black and white conversion is to set the overall structure of the tonal relationship in an image. During color to black and white conversions, you'll be tempted to perfect the lightness and contrast of an image. Resist this temptation, if it leads you to creating too much contrast, loss of shadow and highlight detail.)

3       Enhance Global Lightness and Contrast
Enhance global lightness and contrast, the relative relationships of tone, after you establish the tonal structure, the fundamental tonal relationships. Use Curves.

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Many Ways to Convert Color to Black & White

There are over 14 ways to convert color to black and white.
1    Raw Conversion
2    Convert to Grayscale
3    Convert to Lab then convert to Grayscale keeping the L channel
4    Desaturate
5    Channel Mixer
6    Black & White Adjustment Layer
7    Dual Adjustment Layers - Dual Hue / Saturation
8    Dual Adjustment Layers - Hue / Saturation with Selective Color
9    Dual Adjustment Layers - Hue / Saturation with Channel Mixer
10    Triple Adjustment Layers - 3 Channel Mixers
11    Gradient Map
12    Calculations
13    Apply Image
14    Channels as Layers
Some of these methods aren't optimal. Some are equal. Some are superior.
Which should you use?
It depends on the image.
Sometimes a simple solution will do just as well as a complex one.
Sometimes you need the power of a more complex solution.
Here are my four favorites, ascending from simple to complex.

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